Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Looking Back

I turned forty a few days ago, so I guess that means it's time for my mid-life crisis.  Isn't this when I'm supposed to examine my life and go a little nuts?  Trouble is, since that's kind of my natural state I'm not sure anyone would notice.

Unfortunately for my family and friends, I haven't freaked out about turning forty (so they don't get the fun of teasing me).  I've been seeing white hairs here and there for a few years now.  And physically I feel like I'm eighty.  I don't understand what the big deal is.  I don't understand why I'm supposed to get all worked up about one more day passing, or one more year.

So I can't give you the big meltdown.  But I will take this opportunity for the obligatory life examination.  What have I done with my life?  What happened to my dreams?

I think back and try to remember those dreams I had as a child. 

The first thing I remember wanting to do for a living is teach.  I wanted to be a teacher.  From the time I was young and the first teacher touched my heart and inspired my mind.  I wanted to do that.  I wanted to open up new possibilities for others.  I wanted to touch their hearts.  And while I may not have pursued this occupation professionally, I have had many opportunities to teach.  I have touched lives and inspired minds.  And I have discovered the added benefit that those things go both ways.  I can learn and love and be inspired as much as a teacher as when I was as a student.

The next thing I remember wanting to be was a therapist.  I'm guessing I was about 12 when I had a vague idea of what this meant.  I wanted to help people who were having a difficult time.  I wanted to help people make sense of the craziness of this world.  I wanted to make people feel better.  And while I did not pursue this as a job either, I have had multiple opportunities to do these things for people.  And the more I've learned, the more I've grown, the more I've understood that this is just like with teaching.  I always get back as much as I give, if not more.

The other profession I considered is lawyer.  Now I admit, that's because it was one of two potential professions that my dad said I was allowed to go into.  I didn't like needles, so being a doctor didn't have much appeal.  But being a lawyer sounded good.  In high school and early college, I thought this would be my direction.  I could fight for truth and right.  I could defend people.  And I could argue.  Needless to say, I've had these opportunities as well.  And a side effect of learning to argue and debate was that I learned to see both sides of an issue.  To understand different points of view in a shared experience.  This has benefitted me many times in many situations.

But even as I changed my mind again and again about a job, there was one thing that was always there.  I always wanted to be a mother.  From my earliest memory, it's the strongest desire I've ever had and it's been with me my whole life.  And I have been so blessed in this.  I have five wonderful children.  And they almost always like me.  And I have never regretted putting them before everything else I wanted.  Not for an instant.

I call my life so far a success.  Even with the things that are hard, I am happy.  I am content.  I am pleased with the direction my life is going.

So where's my sportscar?

Monday, December 28, 2009

You're So Vain

You probably think this blog is about you.  Don't you?

Carly Simon tribute aside, let's address this now.  My blog is not about you -- unless you choose to make it so.

If my blog makes you think, great.  If my blog makes you ponder making changes in yourself or your life, fine.  But if my blog makes you think you are not good enough in my eyes, not living up to my expectations, or have done something wrong in your interactions with me, I am not okay with that.

I have not ever used, nor will I, my blog to deliver messages to my friends, family, enemies, casual acquaintences, or any other incarnation.  I will never address a topic hoping that a particular person reads it and knows that I am talking to them and want them to change or that I am unhappy with them.  That's just not how I work.

I mention this because it has already been an issue.  I was amazed at how many people thought I was talking to them when I wrote "Who Asked You?"  That I was, in effect, chewing them out for treating me badly.  This was not about one person.  It was about a lifetime of experiences with many people.  It was about things I've learned and wanted to share.  My preferences, not your instructions.  How I like to be treated, not a command to follow my orders.  Did I think about a few people as I wrote?  Yes, I did.  Is it because I am angry at those people and wanted them to know what they'd done wrong?  No, it is not.  They came to mind for various reasons.  Just in passing.  Nothing big or life changing.

There was one person who was a catalyst (not the reason) for that blog, and she will never read it.  And she doesn't need to because when I had a problem with our interaction I addressed it with her.  That is how I work.  If I can't let it go, then I will talk to you if you've hurt or offended me (and it's pretty hard to offend me).

I write my blog for me.  I write my blog because a million thoughts are going through my mind and I need to get some of them out.  I write my blog to solidify some of those thoughts.  I write my blog for therapy and personal growth.  My personal growth.

I do not write my blog to teach anyone else a lesson.

And I do not think you are vain.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Name is Robin and I'm a Trekkie

All chorus, "Hi, Robin."

"It's been a week since my last episode.  It might have been two or three episodes.  Okay, it was lots of episodes and a movie.  I'm so ashamed!"

*sobs into cupped hands*

Sometimes I'm a social Trekkie; others are watching and I find myself watching with them.  Other times I'm a closet Trekkie.  I watched all 172 episodes of Star Trek: Voyager in a two week period and no one knew.

Not really.  I mean, I really did watch all of Voyager in a two week period, but people knew.

I am a Trekkie, but I am not really ashamed of it.

Compared to "normal"  people (non-Star Trek people; the Star Trek version of a muggle) I would be considered pretty geeky.  I own all of The Original Series, The Next Generation, Voyager, the movies, and one season of Deep Space Nine (this one didn't grab me as much).  I own a bunch of action figures.  I own the customizable card game.  I own a plethora of books, because when they aren't making any more shows you get a "new episode" fix in a book.

But compared to Trekkers, the more serious end of the spectrum, I barely qualify as a Star Trek fan at all.  I have never been to a convention.  I have not staged a recreation of a Star Trek scene in any form:  live action, clay, action figures, pets.  I have never named a child or even a pet after a Star Trek character.  I have never written an episode or fan fiction.  And I do not have the schematics of any version of the Enterprise memorized.

But I do like Star Trek.  I like its hopefulness about the future.  I like the way it tackled tough social issues.  But mostly, I like it because it makes me think.  I don't like entertainment that is just fluff.  I want to think.  I want to puzzle.  I want to have a challenge to solve.  I like figuring things out.

And I like imagination.  Star Trek is nothing if not imagination.  (Sorry, Trekkers.  It's not real.)

I am exposing my children to Star Trek and will let them choose for themselves. (Choose wisely, little ones.)  I will hold my head up high and proclaim myself a Trekkie for all to see. 

Let the mocking begin!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Women Who Think Too Much

Yes, this is the title of a real book.  No, I did not write it, I do not own it, and I have not read it.  I found it at the library, skimmed the table of contents, and put it back.  Too stressful!

I do not believe that I am alone in being one of those women who thinks too much.  I over-analyze.  I look for the hidden meaning.  I drive my husband crazy.

"That's not what I said!"
"But it's what you meant!"

But I over-think in other ways as well.  Too often I cannot sleep because there are so many thoughts running through my mind.  They can be pleasant, like if I'm excited about something or making plans.  Or they can be unpleasant, like if I'm stressed or working on something difficult in my life.  My mind will race from topic to topic, worried that something will slip by that is important or that I won't remember in the morning.  Sometimes writing it down helps, other times nothing does and I am up playing Word Whomp on the computer for hours.  Too often I am seeing 5:00am from the ugly side (as if 5:00am has a good side).

It's what my Buddhist meditation dvd calls a monkey mind.  I have a monkey mind.  Flitting from one thing to the next like a monkey through the branches of a tree.

I have also been accused of being a deep thinker.  Maybe accused isn't the best choice of words here; people usually mean it as a compliment.  But it isn't always a good thing.  Sometimes I miss a lot by skipping the shallow thinking (as others put it).  Sometimes I skip right by the obvious and basic and see only the complicated and heavy. 

And as frustrating as thinking too much can be, as crazy as I make myself when I can't shut my brain down, it's nothing compared to those days when I can barely think at all.  Those days when I can't seem to really lock onto a single thought long enough to process it through.  Those days when the best I can hope for is to pay attention long enough to find the plot in a fluff movie.  I hate those days!

The in-between days are sure nice.  How come I can only recognize them in the rear view mirror?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Coffee Talk

I have a deficiency.  A need, if you will.  I need a neighborhood coffee shop.

Okay, not really a coffee shop.  I don't actually drink coffee.  But I need something like it.  I need a place where I can go and just be.  Alone, with a friend, or with a group of friends.  A place to just be.  Neutral territory.  No time limit and no tasks to complete.  A place to think or to visit.  A place to share or to plan.

I imagine that there are a few places like this around.  But I have not found them.  I have tried many to see if they fit.  Some are okay, others a wreck.  Not one of them is just right.

Finding a place to ponder alone is generally a little easier, especially in good weather.  A park.  The mountains.  The library.  The museum.  My car.

A place for visiting with friends is a little more difficult.  Again, good weather opens up more opportunities.  And if you want to share a meal, there are many choices.  But what if you just want to share each other's company?  A small snack or drink and lots of conversation.  How do you do that?

There's something to be said for meeting somewhere.  Out.  Not at each other's houses or the local Hogi Yogi.  Somewhere with atmosphere.  Somewhere relaxing.  Somewhere comfortable.

And then once I find the place, I have to convince others of the value of taking time doing nothing.  Just being together.  Sharing a space.  Experiencing each other's thoughts and feelings.

But I guess I'd better stick to one thing at a time.  On with the hunt!

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Bad Motivator

"Uncle Owen, this R2 unit has a bad motivator!"

This is my favorite Star Wars quote.  Every time I hear it, and I mean every time, I answer back -- "Me, too!"

Wouldn't it be nice if we were like R2 units and could simply be fitted with a new motivator?  I think that would be awesome!  Okay, they don't travel over bumpy surfaces well and there's the whole 'no arms' thing (until the new movies came out).  Plus, very few people have any idea what they are saying.  So there would be drawbacks.  But a new motivator?  Sure sounds nice.

A discussion of motivation could be seemingly endless.  So, of course, I'm going to try to do it in a few paragraphs.

Any study of motivation will lead you to the ideas of intrinsic versus extrinsic.  Internally versus externally motivated.  Being internally motivated seems to be the psychological higher goal.  I study because I love learning.  I workout because I enjoy it.  I serve because I believe it is the right thing and it makes me feel good.  However, most of our society seems to be based on external motivation.  I study to get good grades.  I workout so that others will find me attractive.  I serve so that people will think I am a good person and praise me.

I don't want to talk about whether one is better than the other.  I can't imagine raising children without using external motivation.  But I do hope to guide them toward internal motivation.  And I don't think most people would go to work every day without the promise of a paycheck.  I think both are necessary and natural.

But one thing that seems to show up in all motivation is some type of reward.  Internal or external.  Maybe the reward is simply a feeling of pride in a job well done.  Maybe it's a pay raise.

So what about when I am in charge of the goals and the rewards for myself?  How do I motivate myself to do things that I don't want to do when the reward is long term or not enough to offset the work?  When I'm having a really bad day, how do I find the motivation to push through and do the things that need to be done?

I wish I could throw out a great outline for conquering these issues.  I wish I could say that after much pondering I've figured it all out, that I know how to stay on task and motivated all the time.

But I don't have the answer.  I'm still pondering.  And just to make things more confusing, I am also pondering on the idea that staying on task isn't all it's cracked up to be and questioning whose expectations really govern my life.  It's quite the conundrum.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Real Simple for the Barely Functioning

DISCLAIMER:  This is not real advice.  Do not follow it.


I love Real Simple magazine.  I like to read it and dream.  I dream about a day when I will have the time, energy, and money to carry out all the wonderful ideas it gives me.  A day when my husband takes the kids and all the pets and goes far, far away.  For several days.  And I have no other obligations.

But reality, in all its wisdom and cruelty, slaps me in the face and I wake up.

So, here I offer my version.  Real Simple for the Barely Functioning -- like me.

You walk through your world in a haze, one pile of stuff blending into the next.  Everything and everyone crying for your attention.  What to do?  Where to start?  How do you find the motivation when it feels like life is living you instead of the other way around?

Here's your motivation:  The stress is your enemy!  Plain and simple.  You must vanquish it to survive.  And you must fight dirty.

Let's get started.

Mail:  If it doesn't contain money or isn't from someone you love, throw it away.  All of it.  If it's important, they'll send you another one.  People who want your money will keep trying.  If you're worried about identity theft, burn it instead.  That will be more satisfying anyway.  You will feel immediate superiority.  You won!

Email:  Delete it.  All of it.  Just start over.  There's nothing prettier than an empty inbox.  Just like with snail mail, if it's important they'll send it again.  Plus now you have legitimacy when someone asks if you did what they asked and you say that you never got their email asking you to do it.  It's the answer you want to give most of the time anyway; why not make it the truth?

Voice Mail:  Really?  Do I have to even type this?  You know what I'm going to say.  Delete it.  All of it.  Scan your caller id, if you must.  If there's anyone there you really want to talk to, call them back and find out what they wanted.  But I'll bet you find mostly irritating people that you didn't want to think about, let alone talk to.  Now you don't have to.

Dishes:  This one requires a little work upfront but will help in the long run.  Wash all the dishes in the house.  Stay up all night if you have to.  Then lock them up.  In anything that requires a key.  How about an old hope chest?  (I hope I don't have any more dirty dishes.)  And buy disposables.  Paper plates.  Plastic spoons.  Everything and anything that will prevent you having to do dishes.  Push aside that desire to be environmentally responsible for a while.  We're talking about your sanity here.  Sacrifices have to be made.  Besides, it's temporary.

Nothing to cook with, you say?  No problem.  This fits in fine with my meal plan.  You won't be cooking.

Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner:  One trip to the store for the week, except for dinners.  Tailor specifics to your needs.  Breakfast is cold cereal.  Lunch is a sandwich.  Dinner is Little Caesar's pizza.  Every day.  For at least a week.  Depending on your beliefs, you may need to buy double the pizza on Saturday and refrigerate it for Sunday.  Every time someone asks what's for dinner, you have the answer.  No thinking.  And someday when you decide to cook again, they will be grateful instead of turning up their noses.  Make sure you continue this meal plan long enough.  If they gripe when you start cooking again, then you didn't do it long enough.  Try again.

Fewer decisions.  Less pressure.  Less mess. 

Breathe!  Again, deeper this time.  Breathe!  Doesn't that feel great?  Nothing like making the tough decisions to give you a little breathing room.

Maybe you would never really do any of these things.  But be honest, it feels good just to imagine yourself doing them, doesn't it?

Watch for future articles on other stressors in your life, with a highlight on children and spouses.

*Sneak Peak -- For pains that you don't think are as serious as they do:  Go to the health food store.  Buy empty gelatin capsules.  Fill them with powdered sugar.  Put them in an old medicine bottle.  Whenever anyone comes to you with a pain that just won't go away (but that you're pretty sure isn't serious) give them one.  Tell them you can only give them one because they are very strong.  Tell them it will take at least half an hour to work.  If they come back in half an hour still in pain, give them one more.  But emphasize that is really all they can have -- too powerful.  If it still hurts after another half hour, it might be a real pain and you'll have to deal with it.  But at least you bought yourself two thirty-minute stretches of peace and quiet.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Who Asked You?

I'm cranky today.  A little snarky.  Is it a good time for me to write a blog?  Probably not.  There's a better than average chance that I'm going to offend or hurt someone.  This is your warning.  Proceed with caution.

Don't you just love unsolicited advice?  The way everyone around you knows exactly how to fix your life?  No, me either.

Do I believe their intentions are pure?  Sometimes.  Do I think they are trying to be hurtful?  Not usually.  Do I find what they say to be helpful?  Very, very rarely.  Usually it comes across as self-agrandizing, holier-than-thou preaching.  At least to me it does.  Especially if I am really having a hard time.

I am not going to tell you how to talk to someone who's having a hard time.  That would be exactly the problem I'm talking about.  I am going to tell you how I would like people to interact with me when I am having a hard time.

1.  Don't assume you know what the problem is.  My life is multi-faceted.  What bothers me one day doesn't the next.  If you think that the one problem you know about is the only problem in my life then you are delusional.  One day it's my health.  One day it's my relationship with my husband.  One day it's my past.  One day it's hormonal.  And some days I don't even know what it is, so how could you?

If you want to know what the problem is (because you are concerned, not out of a morbid curiosity or need to know for your own selfish reasons) then ask me.  Talk to me.  Express your concern and your willingness to listen.  And be prepared for a brush off.  If you are not a person that I am comfortable talking to in that moment, respect that.  These are my feelings and I get to choose who to share them with.

2.  Don't you dare tell me that you know how I feel (or how I should feel).  You don't.  Even if you've had a similar experience, your life up to and around that point are not the same as mine.  You do not have the same temperment as me.  You do not live inside my mind and body.  You do NOT know how I feel.  Nothing will alienate me from you faster than that.

But it will ingratiate you to me if you admit right up front that you don't know how I feel.  Maybe you have an idea, maybe not.  Express your own personal sorrow at seeing me in pain.  Or express your frustration that you can't make me feel better.  Or express your willingness to listen.  Again, listening is the key.  Which leads to number three.

3.  Don't try to fix me or my life or my problem.  These are not yours to fix.  It is not your job to make me feel better no matter who you are.  And when you try, when you tell me how to fix it, you are saying that you have no faith in me to overcome it on my own.  You are saying that you know better how to live my life than I do.  I'm sorry, but there is no chance that when I reach final judgment I am going to be asked how well you lived my life.  It's my life to live and I need to do it.  I need to figure it out for myself.

Listen.  Just listen.  Cry with me.  Hug me.  Comfort me.  Whatever.  But don't try to take my problems away from me.  They are mine.  They are how I become who I am meant to be.  They are how I grow stronger.  They are mine and I will not surrender them.  They are a part of me and I am less without them.  I need them.  And when I don't need them anymore it will be because I overcame them.  I chose to give them away.  I got everything I needed out of them and gave them back to God.